ST. PAUL - Minnesota should buy a packaged computer software system to handle vehicle licensing and registration rather than finishing the rollout of the state's system, an independent group of information technology experts found.

And that will come at a cost.

A panel of experts on Wednesday, May 1, released its report of findings on the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System, known as MNLARS, and recommended that the state cut its losses, let the program enter one more update, then transition to a system developed by a private vendor.

The new software would cost more than the existing program in the short-term, experts said, but would cut down on costs in the future.

The recommendation comes after the state spent more than $113 million in the last decade to create and roll out MNLARS. The program launched in 2017 before it was ready, causing long wait times and headaches for Minnesotans.

Gov. Tim Walz and leaders of the House and Senate transportation finance committees said they were open to purchasing the software from a third-party vendor, which will come in at around $73 million for the next two years.

"I understand that this is a pretty drastic course of action," Walz said. "We've been dying a slow death for 12 years here - certainly over the last two years - and it doesn't make sense."

The total price tag for the various iterations of the program, including the packaged program that could be rolled out over the next 16 months, came out to roughly $186 million. Twelve other states use the packaged software to manage their licensing and registration programs.

And while some were quick to criticize MNIT leaders' move to build out the existing MNLARS program rather than purchase a program from a vendor, Review Chair Rick King said the variety and quality of those programs were limited back in 2014 when the state was looking to upgrade.

"Some of these packaged softwares at that time though, when the state first launched with HP, were not available, they were not available in the 12 states they're in now," said King, who is also Chief Operating Officer of Thomson Reuters.

The MNLARS program is sound, the group found, and can fulfill basic functions. But it fails to process more complex requests and it will struggle to take on new tasks in the future. That's where a packaged system would be able to do better, the review said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle said they were encouraged by the report's findings and by the push to better understand the state's options moving forward.

"For the first time in a very long time, I honestly feel that we see the end of the road," Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said. "We are going to get there and we are going to do the best for the state of Minnesota."

Lawmakers and the governor will consider the new software buy as part of their budget negotiations in the coming weeks.

 

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com